Pelosi eyes last-ditch shot at stimulus deal with Mnuchin
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is holding out one more day for an eleventh-hour agreement with Republicans on a coronavirus relief package, hoping to clinch a longshot deal as talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin drag on this week.
After a 50-minute conversation on Tuesday, Pelosi and Mnuchin will speak again Wednesday in what is likely the final chance to deliver trillions of dollars in relief to struggling Americans ahead of the November election.
“I’m hopeful,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol after her conversation with Mnuchin.
Senior Democrats described Pelosi’s conversation with Mnuchin as positive, noting that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — who has thrown up roadblocks to Democratic proposals in recent months — was not on the call. Democrats are hoping to receive a GOP offer by noon on Wednesday.
The California Democrat huddled with her leadership team Tuesday evening, where Pelosi laid out plans to push ahead with the caucus’ own $2.2 trillion bill if the bipartisan talks fail on Wednesday. The Rules Committee is expected to meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday, to give Democrats the ability to move quickly if they want.
“If we got some agreement tomorrow or tonight, we’ll see,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, adding that Democrats would wait on the outcome of the GOP offer. “But we’re certainly planning on going ahead with our proposal.”
“We want to move the bill,” Hoyer said.
The full Democratic Caucus will be briefed on the negotiations Wednesday morning, with centrist Democrats desperate for action that they can tout on the campaign trail in the final weeks before the election.
Despite not being on the call with Pelosi, Meadows also expressed hope about the chances for a deal.
“The secretary and I have had a couple of conversations this morning. We also had a conversation with the president, so hopefully we’ll make some progress and find a solution for the American people,” he told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday.
The Republican counteroffer is expected to be roughly $1.5 trillion, which is more than Republicans had previously been willing to spend, but still nearly $1 trillion apart from Democrats. If the talks do fall apart again, House Democrats plan to put their $2.2 trillion bill up for a vote this week before members depart for the October recess.
Pelosi confirmed plans to bring the bill to the floor absent a bipartisan breakthrough in a letter to House Democrats on Tuesday night.
“The legislation that we plan to send to the floor will formalize our proffer to Republicans to come to negotiations,” Pelosi wrote in the “Dear Colleague” letter. “With your support, we hope to have a strong vote on the floor to support lives, livelihoods and the life of our democracy.”
Much of Capitol Hill remains skeptical that an agreement — which has failed to emerge over months of talks between the two sides — can materialize in the final days before the House leaves for recess for nearly a month.
“We can meet tomorrow and bring it up tomorrow if we wanted to,” House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said, explaining Democrats’ ability to quickly bring a bill to the floor if there is no deal.
Asked whether they would be a vote this week, McGovern said plans hadn’t been finalized. “Is there anything definite around here?”
Leaders of both parties have tried and failed to reach a new deal on coronavirus aid since early August. But talks have been at a bitter stalemate for weeks, with Pelosi and Mnuchin barely speaking for most of September, let alone trading offers.
The two are now making one final attempt to restart talks, though both chambers have just a handful of days in session left before the recess and the Senate is absorbed with a Supreme Court confirmation battle. It also remains unclear how Democrats and Republicans would resolve some of the biggest sticking points in recent months.
Democrats, for example, have demanded aid for state and local governments, which have seen revenues plummet during the pandemic. Republicans have dismissed it as a nonstarter.
The bill Pelosi introduced Monday is a pared down version of the massive $3.4 trillion Heroes Act the House passed in May. That bill was opposed by Republicans, who balked at the cost and instead called for a “pause” in coronavirus talks for much of the summer.
The latest House version includes $436 billion in aid for state and local governments, $75 billion to bolster coronavirus testing and contact tracing nationwide, restores expired federal unemployment benefits and provides another round of stimulus payments for most Americans. The bill also provides additional relief for airlines, restaurants and small businesses that wasn’t included in the Heroes legislation.
Pelosi’s decision to introduce a smaller coronavirus relief package comes after weeks of resistance, despite centrist Democrats and some senior lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, publicly suggesting the idea.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had previously dismissed the suggestion, saying it only weakened Democrats’ negotiating hand in talks with Republicans. Republican leaders, meanwhile, have insisted they won’t go above a relief package that costs around $1.5 trillion, keeping the two parties far apart in the talks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has cast doubt on Congress’ chances of approving any relief package ahead of the election. McConnell is instead focused on securing Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the high court before the election.
But some centrist House Democrats believed that another, narrower bill could remind voters back home that their side of the Capitol at least made an attempt to deliver more relief, even if the measure doesn’t completely restart talks with Republicans.
“Passing a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package should be our number one priority in the coming days,” a group of moderate Democrats wrote in a letter to Pelosi and Hoyer this week.
John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman contributed to this report.